Two plump polar bears hang on for their lives atop an iceberg, as they float on the sea. One bear tells the other that for the first time in his life, he feels he should have done something about his weight. Addressing the issue of global warming, this is one among the 400 cartoons created by illustrator and cartoonist Rohan Chakravarty, who has won this year’s WWF International President’s Award in Manado, Indonesia, last month.
“I believe cartoons are an effective means of communication. Satire hits you as hard as a slap. My subject involves a lot of jargon that is difficult for a lay person to understand. So I break it up into interesting bits of information. It’s a virtual hug from an animal to a reader,” says the 29-year-old, self-taught artist. Chakravarty would flood his school notebooks, textbooks and walls with comics as a child. His cartoons, centred around wildlife and nature, address topics such as poaching, global warming, wildlife trafficking and wildlife terrorism. “It has been documented that terrorism in Nigeria and Somalia have been funded by the poaching of elephants and rhinos,” he says.
Growing up in Nagpur, Chakravarty volunteered for NGOs involved in wildlife conservation, and went birding and frog spotting. He would rescue abandoned sparrows and bulbuls that he found on roads. A safari on World Environment Day in 2005 at Nagzira Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra, triggered his passion for the natural world when he spotted a tigress having a bath. He drowned himself in a pool of books, films and TV shows dedicated to wildlife. Though it was his grandfather, an avid naturalist, who lit the fire. He would bring him books and encyclopedias on wildlife. “I knew about the wild cat ocelot and margay at the age of three,” he says.
Chakravarty went on to study dentistry, which ended with him “peeping into rotten mouths”, leading to his next stint as an animation designer. In his free time and at night, Chakravarty would fill his online platform, Green Humour, with cartoons. Soon Green Humour became the first series of comic strips from India to be picked up by a major syndicate. His first solo “Wildlife the Toonie Way” in Bangalore (2014) comprised 70 works that were mostly sold out. It gave him the courage to quit his day job and pursue cartooning on wildlife conservation and nature full time. “I once received a mail from a reader in Peru, who came across my comic on pygmy marmosets, the world’s smallest monkeys in the Amazon, who are often caught for illegal pet trade. He stopped buying the pet after seeing my strip. This is the impact I want to have,” he says.
Having been associated with WWF for a long time, Chakravarty has in the past created illustrated maps for tiger reserves and national parks depicting the creatures found in a particular reserve and designed board games for children. His other works include the seven extant species of turtles, ranging from the loggerhead to the hawksbill, in an illustrated map. If he depicts a tiger asserting his land rights during an act of deforestation, with a statement: “I don’t remember signing any papers”, there are also the Arctic Terns, who encircle the whole planet on their migratory route, gossiping about polar bears and penguins they met on their way. His website also offers cartoon merchandise, ranging from mugs to t-shirts, besides his tongue-in-cheek perspective on wildlife.